The 2001 Mario Awards

You might not have noticed that there was plenty of fun new stuff at the NAB show this year. "Slow show" my hoof!
Author:
Publish date:

SOMEWHERE OUT THERE You might not have noticed that there was plenty of fun new stuff at the NAB show this year. "Slow show" my hoof!

I mean – besides the usual candies and bags (pretty nice ones from Digital Vision this year) and luggage tags and light-up bouncing balls, there were loads of great product pick-ups. Let me see now ...

Heck – before NAB2001 I'd never even heard of TXT Polymedia, but right there at the company’s booth in the basement of the Sands, they were giving out hang-over-the-ear stereo FM radios – with crystal-clear reception, I might add. Then you had Terayon giving out museum-quality light-up pens, Liberty Wire & Cable with truly useful LED-light-equipped key rings, Marconi with a battery-operated fan with soft blades, Broadcast Microwave Services with a monitor-screen cleaner –

"But, Mario, you were supposed to list your product picks, not products you picked up!"

Oh. That's different then, isn't it? I guess I'm supposed to pick stuff at a show so slow that Panasonic's great theme was "Digital Networking for Life" (sounds to me more like a judge pronouncing sentence) and Sony's was just "Anycast" (as in "whatever"). Ho-hum.

(For the record, I will not even dignify the question of whether I am really "Mr. Anycast" by answering it here. And besides, I've got my two-tones through the floorboards already!)

All right then, let me start with probably the most important thing at the show – and it's not even something you can pick up. It's simple. That is, it's SIMPLE, Azcar's Shared Individual-Market Playout Enterprise. Ayup, I know; it's got the word "enterprise" in it, but pretend it ain't there.

Mayhap you have heard of the term "centralcasting," the idea that broadcast groups should wire all their stations to a single point to save money on master-control ops. You won't catch me calling centralcasting gross stupidity (only because I ain't sure there's a factor of 144 involved), but geez!

COVERING THE BASES

Not to mention long-distance transmission costs (and fragility); in an era when just about all local broadcast TV has going for it is that it's local, you're gonna de-localize it? And when the local furniture store has a last-minute commercial, is it gonna get FedExed to the central master control? And when the governor has an emergency announcement that delays everything in your market, what then?

Azcar's got it all covered. Ayup, save money by combining master-control functions, but do it locally, within each market, with a third party (well, Azcar is in business) running things for stations owned by different folks. Their numbers work out so well that even LPTV and local cable channels can be accommodated.

Keep local local! Here! Here!

Okay, so suppose you take Azcar up on SIMPLE. How do you entertain visitors to the station when they can't parade through master control anymore? Dynamic Digital Depth might be your answer. It works pretty well as an answer for "How do I attract more people to my trade-show booth?" too.

Ready? 3D without glasses. I know that ain't exactly a new idea at NAB, but this one really works. Best of all, it doesn't require you to shoot anything in 3D. They take your existing video, glznrble it into eight views (not just two), and present it on a modified plasma display that folks just can't keep their eyes off of. And it ain't that expensive, either.

Methinks it's the eight views that make this parallax-stereo technology work better than any other no-glasses 3D I've ever seen, but I've got to admit that I'm also awfully impressed by that glznrbling process that turns ordinary video into 3D. Anyhow, there's a pretty wide sweet spot, and you can shift your weight without losing the 3D effect, and it even kind of grabs you a bit from a distance.

"Hey, Mario, what's 'glznrbling'?"

Well, now, imagine that you have a – Oh! I'm terribly sorry. Methinks I've just run out of space (so to speak). Time to move on to the next technology.

XL1 ACCESSORY

Canon also had some flatscreen no-glasses 3D in its booth, and they also had wearable dual-screen LCD 3D goggles and a 3D lens for an XL1 DV camcorder. That was all nice stuff, but it just didn't grab me. What did grab me in the XL1-accessory department was P+S Technik's Mini 35 digital.

Ever read a story about a blockbuster Hollywood flick? "So-and-so got paid $20 million for appearing, and it cost $30 million to rebuild ancient Greece in Lake Havasu City," and so on. My point is, there are megabucks spent. Meanwhile, the director shows up on a location scout with a cheapo viewfinder round the neck and then has to remember the shots seen through it.

So, P+S Technik came up with the "CPT Video Directors Finder," not a device for locating those-who-shout "Cut!" via scanned imagery but a way to stick 35mm and 16mm lenses on small DV camcorders to replace that near-useless necklace pendant. Then along came a bunch of actual DV-shot movies shown in buy-a-ticket theaters. So, this year they came out with "Mini 35 digital."

It's still a relay-optics system for sticking film lenses on DV camcorders, but this time the idea is to shoot that way, and they claim the same depth of field as film. Pretty neat! You just have to get used to the fact that the camera is the least expensive part of the rig.

I hate to seem stuck in a rut, but this next one's lens-related, too. Worse, yet, I sort of gave the same award to Canon last year, but Fujinon's TS-18A image stabilizer is different.

Look – Canon didn't invent optical image stabilization. Anyone remember the Dynalens? (No? Well, there was this thing long ago called the Dynalens, and – Dang! Got to run again). They did do a great job with their Mario-Award-winning 86x HD zoom last year, and Fuji did something similar with their 87x HD zoom this year, but that ain't what I'm awarding.

This year a Mario Award goes to the standalone TS-18A, a less-than-2-inch thick, less-than-7-pound addition to the rear of your existing lenses. Fuji's XA87x13.2, with its 2x extender, goes out to a whopping 2300mm, but add the TS-18A, and you can make that a near-unbelievable 2875mm!

Even Wonder Woman would need an image stabilizer at that focal length, but at wider angles, a camera op. might not want to be fighting the stabilizer in fine framing. No prob! The TS-18A varies its compensation based on the zoom ratio. Hot dang!

If you really, truly wanted to, methinks you could rig a TS-18A and an 87x lens onto the front of Panasonic's AJ-HDC27V camcorder, but it's one whole heck of a lot of fun even with an ordinary lens. I love this little beastie!

60 PIX A SEC

You can adjust the camera's frame rate, but it squirts out 60 pix a second no matter what you do. Set the camera for 24 fps, and it gives film-like exposure and motion judder – and then puts in its own "3:2 pulldown" so you can broadcast it right out of the camera. But you ain't limited to 24 fps. Try 4, 33, 12, 40, 6, 60 – whatever you feel like.

If your choice of frame rate gives you an exposure longer than you care for, you can adjust the shutter – both film style and video style. Need to shoot really slow? It's got built-in time lapse – pick a period between recordings, a number of frames to record, and, naturally, the instantaneous frame rate and shuttering.

I think I could live with solitary confinement (is that "Digital Networking for Life") with this jobbie to keep me company. I also liked its companion frame-rate converter (in the secret Panasonic technology demo room) for slo-mo and sped-up motion, but that's just a bonus. What fun!

Speaking of converters, methinks we've been dealing with 525-line/625-line stuff since the 1950s or so. Remember the BBC delay lines? Remember the Fernseh optical converter? Remember Fernseh? Geez! Remind me to lose some age one of these days.

Anyhow, the 525/625 stuff was pretty easy. It's the 29.97/25 stuff that gets messy – double images, lost resolution, jerky motion, and other stuff like that there.

A ways back, a bunch of manufacturers all came out with paths out of those uglinesses. There were different techniques, but they all fell into the heading of "motion compensation," essentially figuring out where the moving stuff in the nonexisting frames needs to be and creating the frame that would have been there if it was shot in the other standard.

'Twas most high and exalted stuff – likewise, 'twas most high and extortive pricing. It was pretty frustrating knowing that the solution was out there, but you couldn't afford it.

Enter Snell & Wilcox at NAB2001. The Mach One standards converter has motion compensation. All it lacks is a motion-compensated standards converter's price.

This might be thanks to a secret UK-government subsidy somehow related to dead cows. Whatever (or should I say "Anycast"?) it's due to, the gift is appreciated on this side of the pond.

Where was I before I started talking about conversion? Oh yeah – Panasonic's camcorder.

A DIFFERENT IDEA

So you pick that wonderful beastie up, and you'll doubtless shove a battery on the rear. Power-tek International has a different idea.

You shove the CPS (camera power system) on the rear. It's got the same kind of attachments as a battery brick, and it doesn't weigh much more, but the early version shown at the show was a little bigger. They told me (or should I say "us"?) they were about to trim an inch off a couple of the dimensions.

Then you screw in a hydride canister or two. Ayup, the CPS is based on fuel-cell technology. It sucks hydride out of the cartridge and oxygen out of the air, and it releases energy – a lot more energy per pound than lead-based bricks. The cartridges also supposedly recharge faster than bricks, but I ain't so sure of that.

Methinks it should also generate water, but I forgot to ask the Power-tek folks about that. Maybe it's an added benefit for hot-weather shoots. Shove the CPS on the camera back, stick a straw in the camera op's mouth, and keep going until starvation sets in.

Speaking of straws, suppose you're building a new facility today. You'd love to have a bazillion fibers running from every room to every room, but let's get real, shall we?

So, instead, you buy some empty FutureFLEX conduit from Sumitomo's Lightwave division. Then you sit and watch your business grow. Suppose you come to need 18 fibers in one of those empty conduits that's 2,000 feet long.

No problem. Just blow the fiber through the conduit.

Dang! You thought you needed multimode but you really need single mode?

No problem. Blow the old fiber out and blow the new fiber in.

Phooey! You thought you just needed 18 fibers but you really needed 350?

No problem. Just blow a few more times.

Sumitomo was blowing its fibers instantly in and out of conduits in a corner of Telecast Fiber's booth at NAB, so guess whose terminal equipment you can use if you choose.

LIP CHECKER

One more Japanese company before I move on to the resistor (ain't that what piece de resistance means?). This one's called Sigma System Engineering, not to be confused with Sigma Electronics or Sigma Designs or Sigma Chi, and the product has my favorite name at NAB – the Video Kachinko (also known as the SS-1018).

If the truth be told (hey – why not?), the Video Kachinko doesn't do a heck of a lot of good without the SS-1017 Lip Checker. And, although one end of the Lip Checker does look something like a tube of lipstick, it's really an audio/video differential-delay measurement system.

I know. In the old days, I, too, used to favor aiming a camera at a block of wood and banging on it with an EV 635 mic.

(Remember the nail-hammering EV 635? Remember Electro-Voice? Dang!)

These days, that's neither fast enough nor accurate enough. The Video Kachinko (just something that makes a flash and a beep at the same time) and the Lip Checker do a nice, fast job easier and cheaper than anyone else's system (except the old 635 and block of wood).

That brings me to Shape Tape. It's from a Canadian company called Measurand.

It surely does look like tape – about a half-inch wide and maybe as thick as those non-slip strips on the bottom of your bathtub. It comes in different lengths.

I – um – haven't yet – er – had the time to fully grasp what goes on inside the tape, but, whatever it is, in less than 100 usec, it tells all to a computer.

Bend the end of the tape a little. The computer knows.

Lift the middle a little. The computer knows.

Twist it. Shove it. Tie it in a knot. The computer knows.

Wrap yourself in the tape and do things. The computer has captured all of your motion. They even have an adhesive version that sticks on your skin.

I don't know. Maybe if I spend a week in front of their booth at Siggraph, I'll get some clue, but this much I do know: It's a motion-capture system, and – amazingly! – it ain't that expensive.

Those are my picks. There were 6.02E23 exhibitors at NAB this year, and there's only so much room in this fishwrap. So, don't think of those who didn't win awards as losers; think of them, graciously, only as non-winners. If you don't like my picks, don't blame the editors; blame me.

If you can find me.